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Country Reports
DJIBOUTI, Landmine Monitor Report 1999



Djibouti lies at the southern entrance to the Red Sea at the strategic Bab-el-Mendab, which commands the passageway to the Suez Canal for vessels to and from the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean. Djibouti, which obtained independence from France on 27 June 1977, is home to the largest overseas French military base. Approximately 3,200 soldiers, including contingents from the French Air Force and Foreign Legion, are stationed in Djibouti. It has borders with Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, three countries that have undergone upheavals in the recent past.

Mine Ban Policy

Djibouti signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997 and ratified it on 18 May 1998. On 5 June 1998, the United Nations Secretariat informed Djibouti's Foreign Ministry that Djibouti's MBT ratification instruments were received and duly registered. Djibouti did not participate in any of the meetings of the Ottawa process; however, its quick action on the MBT is largely due to the active involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the concern shown by a number of Djibouti government officials, particularly at the foreign ministry and within the diplomatic corps of Djibouti. Between 1996 and the early period of 1998, ICRC international and regional staff held seminars and visited government officials on several occasions to discuss the global landmine crisis and the importance of the MBT.

Djibouti voted in favor of the 1996, 1997, and 1998 pro-ban UN General Assembly resolutions. Djibouti has signed and adheres to the 1980 U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Protocol II on mines. It has not yet ratified the amended Protocol II (1996). Djibouti has not introduced domestic legislation to implement the Mine Ban Treaty.

Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

Djibouti is not a known landmine producer or exporter. It appears to have obtained mines in the past from France and Italy. Djibouti is the most important seaport on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden. It is the major port for all materials to Ethiopia. Ethiopia has signed, but not ratified, the MBT. Neighboring Eritrea has not signed the MBT. The transit of landmines through Djibouti territory is, therefore, a concern. Indeed, Djibouti opposition groups claim that at least one shipment of landmines was imported by Ethiopia through the port of Djibouti.[1]

Djibouti officials strongly reaffirm Djibouti's intention to fully comply with the MBT. With the help of technicians from the French Foreign Legion stationed in Djibouti, the Djibouti military destroyed 350 kg of landmines and UXO material in 1998.[2] It is believed that additional stocks of AP mines remain, but no information is available whether any other stocks are planned for destruction. The French military indicates that it does not use mines in Djibouti[3].


Djibouti has a small landmine problem; the legacy of a three-year internal war (1991-1994). Landmines were used in this war by the rebel force of the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) and by government troops loyal to President Hassan Gouled Abtidon.[4] The two sides reconciled on 26 December 1994. Mines left behind by this war claimed victims as recently as November 1998. A splinter group of the FRUD still maintains an armed opposition in some northern zones. Djibouti military officers claim that the opposition militia is now laying landmines near the border between Eritrea and Djibouti, but this claim has not been substantiated.[5]

In 1998, there were a number of landmine incidents. Most of the known incidents were due to old landmines, but at least one incident involved new landmines. In early November, an army truck ran over an anti-tank landmine near Asageila. Four soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded. Fourteen antipersonnel landmines were found in the vicinity of the anti-tank mine that exploded. A month earlier, a soldier was killed by a landmine explosion. He was with an army mine clearance team near the provincial town of Obock.

On 18 March 1998, an opposition militia mined a section of the road the leads south from Ali Sabih town to the Somaliland/Ethiopian/Djibouti border. A driver for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and three soldiers were killed in two separate incidents.[6]

Landmine Problem

In 1991, a long simmering dispute between the FRUD and the government of Djibouti escalated into a full-scale war. Both sides used landmines. Government military officers interviewed recently claim that the army used landmines according to military doctrine and had properly marked minefields. They indicate, however, that often the markings were lost. In general, landmines were used around military camps and on access roads. There is no indication of any large-scale use of landmines against the civilian population by either party.

Landmines were most heavily used in the northern district of Obock. In Obock town, the Djibouti army systematically laid mines to protect the army camp and key installations and FRUD forces are said to have mined access roads out of Obock and near the village of Andoli. A number of dry-river beds and camel caravan routes were also mined near the district town of Tadjoura west of Obock. The Djibouti military used French and Italian mines, while FRUD forces employed Italian and Russian mines.

Although no reliable data are available on the extent of mine contamination. Certain zones in the Afar highlands are, considered to face a higher landmine threat than other areas.[7] There has been no systematic survey of mined areas in Djibouti, but some of the known mined areas are where recent landmine incidents occurred. The southern district of Dikhil may contain some landmines.[8] In Obock town, mines have been found in the palm groves, which are now not tended because of landmine threat. Access roads and riverbeds north of Tadjoura are also avoided.

Mine Action

The government recently appointed a mine action taskforce composed of representatives from the military, Ministry of Health, the ICRC and the World Health Organization (WHO). Representatives of the taskforce attended the 1998 Kampala conference and have begun formulating an action plan. The plan calls for a mine action program that includes surveys of mine-affected zones, mine awareness and victim assistance.[9] No funds have been allocated to the taskforce action plan, but some donor countries and international organization are said to be reviewing it for funding purposes.

In 1998, the French army completed the training of a contingent of thirty military deminers. The newly trained deminers started limited demining exercise in the district of Obock, one of the districts most severely affected by landmines.[10] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is funding mine awareness and mine clearance projects in Djibouti.[11]

Landmine Survivor Assistance

Djibouti's northern plateau, the area most heavily contested during the civil war, and which contains most of the suspected minefields or mined routes, is mostly rough mountainous terrain that contains few easily accessible roads. Civilian victims face major difficulties in calling for or reaching help. Military mine victims are almost always evacuated by helicopter.

The District hospital of Obock, closest to areas with the greatest landmine threat, was completely destroyed during the 1991-1994 civil war. There are now only two hospitals in Djibouti capable of assisting victims of landmines. Both are in Djibouti City. Civilian victims are treated at the public Peltier Group Hospital. Although capable of major surgery, Peltier Hospital had gone through a number of years of deterioration. All military victims of landmines are treated at the French Military hospital of Bouffard, which has adequate but small surgery and intensive care facilities. Civilians are not normally treated at this hospital.

Post-operative care is not available for mine victims in Djibouti. Peltier Hospital, Peltier has a small rehabilitation center for amputees and other handicapped persons. It is not equipped to provide prosthetics. No job training or psychological rehabilitation facilities exist in Djibouti.

The local office of the ICRC has been active in providing some assistance to mine victims. The ICRC, which has a rehabilitation facility in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, imports prosthetics for landmine amputees or sends patients to Addis Ababa to be fitted with artificial limbs. During the 1994 and 1997 period, the ICRC has assisted a total of nineteen landmine victims with prosthetic devices. Seventeen of the victims were from the army and two were from the FRUD. The useful life-span of the prosthetics made at the ICRC center in Addis Ababa is about 18-24 months, and nine of the victims were re-fitted with new devices in 1997.[12]


[1]“Addis Readies for War in the Air,” Indian Ocean newsletter (ION 842), pp. 8-9.

[2]Nation, 28 March 1998; French military sources.

[3]French military sources.

[4]Interview with Gen. Zakaria of the Djibouti Armed Forces.

[5]On a number of occasions, spokesmen for opposition militia have claimed responsibility for some incidents in which landmines were reportedly used. This was the case on 18-19 March when rebels claimed a successful assault on a military post south of Ali Sabih.

[6]“Program Summary - Radio France Internationale,” Paris Radio France Internationale, 21 March 1998.

[7]Information on mined zones and the types of mines used was obtained from Djibouti military sources and members of the Task Force on Landmines.

[8]Interview with Djibouti military officers, 14 January 1999.

[9]Landmine Monitor interview with Dr. Mohamed Said Madian, Chief Medical Officer.

[10]Nation, (Djibouti), 18 November 1998.

[11]“ICRC, UN Applaud Implementation of Landmine Ban,” Agence France-Press, 1 March 1999.

[12]Mustafa Mohamed Barkat, ICRC Office Manager in Djibouti.